The Importance of “Being Wrong”

The errors of the great mind exceed in number those of the less vigorous one.

– William Stanley Jevons
Principles of Science

Okay. I'll admit it. I hate being wrong.

It’s much more enjoyable for me to have someone look at what I’ve written and say, “Great job,” than to have him tell me I messed up. I’m human.

In my heart, I know this attitude slows me down. Stops me from being as good a copywriter as I can be. There are far too many stories of highly successful people who’ve failed miserably only to start over, sometimes many times. But still, sometimes …

Thomas Edison is a great example of why I should embrace a positive attitude about failure. When asked how it felt to fail over ten thousand times inventing the light bulb, he said, “I have not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work.”

There were times – especially when things really weren’t going well in my writing – that I felt this was just so much claptrap. Empty words. Something you’re told in success seminars. But the older I’ve gotten and the more experience I’ve had, the more Edison’s words ring true.

I never really had a good idea why they seemed true until recently. Now there’s scientific evidence that making mistakes – being wrong, failing – sets your mind up for making breakthroughs in thinking.

Right now, I’m reading Where Good Ideas Come From by Steven Johnson. In the book, Johnson describes prominent examples of how mistakes, false steps, and failures have fueled important scientific discoveries. His insights relate brilliantly to the copywriting you and I do.

“But Jevons,” Johnson says about the man quoted above, “is making a more subtle case for the role of error in innovation, because error is not simply a phase you have to suffer through on the way to genius. Error often creates a path that leads you out of your comfortable assumptions. Being right keeps you in place. Being wrong forces you to explore.” [Emphasis added]

“Being wrong forces you to explore.”

Johnson’s idea is the driving genius behind Michael Masterson’s peer review process. Certainly, peer reviews simulate how your prospect will respond to copy. They do open a creative process that stimulates good copy. They do increase the chance of copy succeeding in the marketplace. But there’s more to it than that.

Until I read Johnson’s book, I didn’t realize the huge hidden power behind the peer review process. This process allows you as a copywriter to make mistakes. To use the wrong words. To leave out important ideas and to include lame ones. This process allows you to be wrong … and encourages you to explore.

By exploring, you become better.

Two examples came up a short while ago in the final peer review of the Circle of Success Leads Intensive. Two members had presented copy a couple of weeks earlier in the first peer review. They both did all right. Not great, but fairly well. However, both samples needed improvement.

The second time around? In both instances, the copy had improved dramatically. Each copywriter had taken to heart the suggestions of their peers. But they went beyond that. Each explored new ideas the initial reviews stimulated.

Without knowing it, these two budding copywriters embraced the possibilities of being wrong. They used those possibilities to improve more than just their copy. They used them to improve themselves as copywriters.

Dare to Be Wrong in All Your Writing.

This whole idea of being wrong fits nicely into Michael Masterson’s peer review process. So what about the rest of your copywriting life? Is it okay to be wrong there?

Don’t misinterpret me. You should always strive to write the strongest, most compelling words. Your copy should follow all the strategies, principles, and secrets you learn from AWAI. You must edit, polish, review, and edit again before you say, “It’s ready.” Always.

But fear of being wrong can freeze you before you begin. Fear can keep you from submitting a Bootcamp spec assignment because “it’s probably not good enough.” Fear can keep you stuck in place and not moving forward in your career … and your success plan.

Accepting that it’s okay to be wrong frees you. You’ll be more willing to work hard knowing that the inevitable wrong turn won’t drop you off a cliff. Instead, it opens new roads and new possibilities.

Do I take my own advice? I hope so. This isn’t the article I’d originally intended to write. I was opting for something a little safer. This one is different from those I’ve written for The Golden Thread in the past. There’s a chance Katie won’t like it and will ask me to write something different. It’s a chance I’m willing to take because in the words of Charles Kettering …

One fails forward toward success.

The Professional Writers’ Alliance

The Professional Writers’ Alliance

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Published: September 26, 2011

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